The Value of Values

Peter Robertson Value of Values Header

Jared Diamond explored the factors that contribute to how a society chooses to fail or survive in his best seller Collapse. He found societies that effectively implement an appropriate and shared value system are more likely to prosper and rise above challenges. With the current governance scandals enveloping FIFA and VW, one wonders how important shared values are for organisations of all shapes and sizes.

In recent articles I discussed some thoughts on the structural issues affecting our sporting participation.  In an environment of accelerating change and a ‘Megatrending’ Society, how do we ensure that our decision makers are equipped to make the right choices when faced with key strategic decisions?

Most For-Profit companies have a pretty sharp focus delivering profits and creating shareholder wealth. Of course, this can create its own problems such as we all experienced during the investment banking crisis.  Much has been written about the resulting GFC however, it is commonly recognised that the GFC was abetted by a distorted value system that had developed in parts of our financial sector.

When it comes to the Not for Profit (NFP) sector, things can get really complicated.

Commonly, NFP’s grew out of a desire of their founders to improve some element of their local communities.  However, as they grow and evolve, the range of stakeholder expectations often becomes quite wide-ranging.  For instance, many sporting bodies were initially established as associations that facilitated and provided a framework for competitions.  They now worry about media rights, social media policy, health and wellbeing, risk management, funding and development models, infrastructure and investment management, to name just a few issues.

NFP Stakeholders are often passionate and emotionally invested in their organisation’s mission, and can commonly include those with their own individual For-Profit objectives.  NFP boards can often comprise a majority of member elected directors. Board members come from different geographic, professional, ethnic and community backgrounds.  In this context, it is predictable and reasonable to expect that many member elected board members come to the board table with a barrow or two to push.  Trying to harness myriad secular objectives into a collective strength is tough and failure can render the organisation impotent, or worse is there is any real money involved – a real ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.

Peter Robertson FIFA Graphic

Sometimes with director terms that are self-serving and an election process that could be characterised by a popularity contest or ‘whose turn it is’ rather than who is best for the job, staff are well aware how quickly board composition can impact strategic direction and focus.  Sometimes often well-meaning NFP directors consider their role to be partly an executive one and staff are often on edge and unsure of their own positions and job priorities.   Executive staff provide the leverage for boards to drive substantive organisational growth and achieve their strategic objectives. Having uncertainly is not conducive to optimal performance.

Any of us who have worked in the NFP sector will recognise the dogmatic director or committee member intent on promoting their ideas at the expense of all others, or the ‘I know what to do – everyone else is an idiot’, or the ‘I’m here to keep you bastards honest’ type.  Unfortunately, if I am brutally honest, I am sure that I have displayed snippets of these personalities myself at times.  A board or committee environment characterised by these traits can quickly become a place of distrust, egos, anger and confrontation. This is simply not a nice place to be and meetings become combative, tedious and unproductive, and generally no fun at all. A strong chair can do a great deal to keep the ship ostensibly afloat, but the situation is rarely ideal and not sustainable.

Skills-based director recruitment, whilst commonplace in the For-Profit sector, can be more difficult in the NFP space.  Systematic identification and recruitment of people with the appropriate and necessary skills is a key factor in organisational sustainability.  Those directors willing to make what is usually a considerable personal investment in time and energy into a NFP board should intrinsically bring valuable energy and individual expertise.  However, a good board is a good team and how the directors work within that team to debate key issues and reach consensus strikes at the heart of an organisation’s culture.

Richard Straub, president of the Peter Drucker Society Europe observed that:-

Being human is consciously to bring judgement, intuition, creativity, empathy and values into play.  In business, it is the domain of entrepreneurial thinking and innovation, of weighting decisions, of collaboration and trust.

Now I certainly don’t profess to be any form of expert however, in my opinion one of the most important criteria in any board assessment is that of ‘values’ and a focus on ensuring that the values of the individuals match those of the organisation.  The Oxford dictionary defines ‘values’ as the ‘Principles of standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life’.  The Business Directory goes further to say that ‘Values have a major influence on a person’s behaviours and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations’.

Peter Robertson Values Graphic

The strength and application of appropriate shared values provides a sound platform for decision-making, executive leverage and ethical behaviour.  Therefore, I would suggest that a board comprised of quality people with strong personal and professional values will outperform, and Values should be at the top of any NFP’s board skills matrix.

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. Roy Disney

To take an extreme position, whilst Napoleon was clearly an incredible manager, thinker and leader; I doubt he would have been a great fit for the EU council!

About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as 'Jack of all trades - master of none'. Having safely made it to my mid 50's, I am still yet to have a real job - but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.


  1. Good maintain the dialogue. I work in what was once deemed the community sector which might have been slotted into the NFP category but nowadays everything is so corporate in all means. Anyway I try to look at what interest/motivates me in this area.

    Participation is pivotal. Getting out, mixing with others, interacting socially is good for your health in a wholistic way benefitting you both physically and mentally. I previously mentioned that back in the 1980’s a lecturer of mine produced a lot of material on how changes in technology were going to give us more leisure time, though this is not what has happened.

    The fact institutions like surf life saving remain benefiting the fitness of the participants as well as safeguarding our community merits looking at. Re committees, boards ect, there will always be debate, discussion re ideas, with the fact that some times the loudest voices dominate, regardless of the merits of their understanding. Let’s have an exchange of ideas, but try and be guarded by aiming to engage the maximum number of participants. The more people involved in sporting, community based activities, the healthier the society.

    These are quick ideas but basically give a rudimentary understanding of where i’m coming from in this area. Happy to add more down the track.


  2. Hi Glen,
    I agree, it was a slight diversion from previous threads and I actually wasn’t going to post this piece however, it seemed timely with Hamish Neal’s excellent post on FIFA. I suppose the relevance is more at larger NFP bodies rather than clubs, but I suppose some of the concepts would still apply. The idea that organisational culture comes from the top (or the fish rots from the head) makes getting this right important. There are some pretty stark examples where poor governance has massive negative impacts on grass roots participation and the health of sports.

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